Mar 30, 2010

Baseball stumbles to 1-3 week

by Axel Cerny

 It seemed that the Liberty Flames baseball team could do no wrong to start this year, but Division-I baseball is a long season, and no team goes a whole season without some bumps in the road.

Strong teams are characterized by winning on the days when the offense or defense does not live up to their potential and bouncing back into the win column as quickly as possible after suffering a loss.

Hot hitting catcher Nathan Thompson said the only thing that will stop this Flames team from being the strongest team in the Big South is themselves.

“We’re talented enough, and we definitely have the work ethic,” Thompson said.

Over the past week, the Flames went on the road for four games, facing some of the tougher competition they have seen all season in addition to opening up Big South play at UNC-Asheville (UNCA). On Wednesday, the Flames took some bumps and bruises away from a 10-0 loss in Blacksburg, Va. in their only meeting of the year with the Virginia Tech Hokies.

They followed that up with their first Big South series, a three game set against the Bulldogs from UNCA. They lost the first two games of the series by one run in each, but bounced back to take the final game 7-3. Following the week’s action, the Flames’ record stood at 1-2 in the Big South and 14-8 overall.

On Wednesday, Liberty sent Dustin Umberger to the rubber in Blacksburg for his second start of the year. After Liberty came up empty with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the second inning, the Hokies got on the board in a big way, plating five runs in the bottom of the third.

Outside of Thompson’s two-hit game, the Flames could not seem to figure out Virginia Tech starter Manny Martir, mustering only two other hits as a team and never finding their way to the scoreboard.

The Hokies finished with 10 runs to Liberty’s zero, and Martir picked up the win after tossing seven scoreless innings to move to 1-1 on the season. Umberger recorded his first loss for the Flames, giving up five earned runs in just 2 2/3 innings to make his record 0-1 on the season.

After one day off, the Flames were back on the road in Asheville, N.C., on Friday, opening up Big South Conference play. Under a new coaching staff, this year’s Bulldogs showed Liberty that they will be a contender in the conference this season.

“They showed they’ve definitely improved, and their new head coach has them moving in the right direction,” Thompson said.
After each team posted a run in the first inning, it was Thompson who was driven home by a Justin Richardson ground out after doubling and taking third on a wild pitch to make it 2-1 in favor of the Flames after two innings.

It was not until the fifth inning that the Bulldogs struck back on an error and a run-scoring double to give them a 3-2 advantage. P.J. Jimenez tied it back up in the top of the eighth with his second hit and second RBI of the day, but in the bottom of the eighth, the back and forth battle continued as the Bulldogs took another two runs off a wild pitch and another error.

Liberty would rally for one more run in the ninth, but that would be all as they dropped their first Big South game, 5-4. Drew Spears pitched eight innings, running his record to 1-1 for UNCA, while Liberty starter Shawn Teufel took the loss in a solid effort to fall to 4-1 on the season.

The final two games of the series between Liberty and Asheville were played in a doubleheader on Saturday. Steven Evans possibly tossed his best outing of the season, in game one, but UNCA starter Ryan Dull countered the effort with a gem of his own.

Tied in a 1-1 pitchers duel heading into the bottom of the ninth, Jason Schumer hit a walk-off home run off of Evans to give the Bulldogs a 2-1 win and a two games to none lead in the weekend series. Evans went eight-plus innings, giving up two runs on four hits, while striking out five and walking three batters. He fell to 3-1 on the season, while Dull moved to 3-0 on the year after tossing a complete game.

The Flames salvaged the final game of the series, as the last of Liberty’s weekend rotation, Keegan Linza, tossed a complete game of his own.

Trailing by two in the top of the second, the Flames offense finally came alive with four runs on four hits. Josh Richardson beat out an infield single to bring home the first run. Centerfielder Curran Redal drove in another run on a sacrifice fly two batters later, and Matt Williams and Tyler Bream used run scoring singles to conclude the scoring outburst.

The Flames would bring in three more runs before the end of the game thanks largely in part to left fielder Doug Bream’s three-hit effort.

With the 7-2 win, the Flames moved to 1-2 in conference play and 14-8 overall. The Bulldogs record fell to 2-4 in the Big South and 7-13 overall. Linza moved to a Big South-leading 5-0 with the win, while UNCA starter Jason Schumer fell to 0-2.

Liberty will return home this afternoon to play the George Mason Patriots at 3 p.m. and will play Virginia Commonwealth on Wednesday. The Flames play a three-game home series this weekend against High Point.

Contact Axel Cerny at axelcerny@gmail.com.


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